From Naval Forces – Modular combatant transitions from concept to reality

LCS sea frame commences construction

Modular combatant transitions from concept to reality

By Edward Lundquist

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The United States Navy’s transformational Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has transitioned from concept to reality as construction has commenced construction for the first “Flight 0” hull.


Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMCO) is the prime contractor for the first ship, a high-speed monohull being built at Marinette Marine in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Marinette, WI.  Initial delivery will be in 2007.  The other prime contractor is General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Bath, Maine, with the ship being built by Austal, USA in Mobile, AL.  Austal will begin construction on its trimaran Flight 0 LCS in October 2005.


The Navy decided to build two different designs for a “fast, modular, reconfigurable combatant” while separately designing the combat systems “mission modules” that would be common to either “sea frame” design. 


“The Littoral Combat Ships is a magnificent concept,” says Rear Admiral Mark Edwards, Director of Surface Warfare on the Navy Staff.  It’s a critical element of our Surface Combatant Family of Ships, which also includes the DD(X) destroyer, the CG(X) cruiser, and our fleet of multimission AEGIS fleet of guided-missile destroyers and cruisers.  The complementary capabilities of these transformational warships will be successful across the full spectrum of operational requirements demanded of our surface force for years to come.”


The Flight 0 ships will use combat systems that exist today, adapted for use about LCS.  The Navy wants to use mission systems that are specifically designed for use on LCS for Flight 1 and beyond.


Unlike multimission combatants, LCS will be configured for one of three “focused missions”: mine warfare (MIW); anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASUW).  These are the primary threats that the navy needs to address in order to assure access in the littoral or coastal regions of the world. 


Allies must assure access in the littoral


Over three-quarters of the world’s population, over 80 percent of all capital cities are found within 200 miles of the coast, and nearly all the marketplaces of international trade take place in the littoral region. The littoral is not only critical for any potential adversary, they are a target-rich environment for terrorists.


Significant analysis led the Navy to recognize the need for a small, fast, agile warship with very shallow draft to deal with mines, quiet submarines and fast, armed surface craft that could deny access in the littoral.


The littoral is a complex operating environment.  These waters are usually congested, shallow, with difficult acoustic and atmospheric conditions.  Significant friendly and neutral ships and aircraft are to be found here, and these characteristics invite threats like mines, diesel submarines, and fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft, anti-ship cruise missiles and aircraft – to deny access for our forces, friends and partners.


LCS will incorporate signature-reduction design and signature management technology that will control acoustic and magnetic signatures to improve combat effectiveness and be a major advantage over current warships.


The LCS solution calls for a number of sea frames to be deployed, all of which can be tailored with specific combat systems suites for focused mission as required by the joint warfare commander.  LCS can be reconfigured to a different mission in a matter of hours.


Mission packages can be kept up to date so that LCS always takes the most current combat capability to sea without the need of an invasive overhaul to the ship.


The LCS seaframe will have core systems for navigation, communications and self-defense.  This will allow for a relatively small “core” crew with additional warfare mission specialists coming aboard operating the mission systems.  The core crew may be permanently assigned to the seaframe or be one of a number of rotating crews that are exchanged as part of the Navy’s “Sea Swap” program. The LCS also will have the capacity


Unmanned Systems will be “Main Battery”


The “main battery” will rely heavily on offboard systems in the mission modules, included manned helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). 


Some of the systems to be employed on LCS configured for the MIW mission include:


·        The AN/AQS-20A Advanced Mine Hunting Sonar is a single pass multi-sonar system designed to detect, classify, localize and identify mines on the sea floor and in the water column.  AN/AQS-20A IOC is scheduled for 2007.


·        The Airborne Mine Neutralization System is a lightweight expendable mine neutralization system is an MH-60S weapon system designed for rapid neutralization of bottom and moored mines.  IOC is scheduled for 2008.


·        The AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) is an MH-60S sensor designed to detect moored, near surface mines using light detection and ranging technology.  IOC is scheduled for 2008.


·        The AN/AWS-2 Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS) is being developed to counter by destruction of near surface and floating mines using a 30mm cannon hydroballistic projectile and includes a target reacquisition pod co-located on the MH-60S. RAMICS IOC is scheduled for 2010.


·        The Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS) System will ensure the Navy will maintain an assured access capability and counter influence mines that may not be found using other mine hunting systems.  OASIS is a lightweight magnetic/acoustic influence sweep system employed by the MH-60S.  The FY2006 President’s Budget requests$13.9M for the completion of developmental and operational testing leading to Milestone C and LRIP in Fiscal Year 2007.  IOC is scheduled for 2008.


·        The Remote Mine Hunting System (RMS) is being developed as an unmanned semi-submersible vehicle that will deploy from LCS to provide an over-the-horizon organic mine hunting capability.  RMS includes the AN/AQS-20A minehunting sonar as it’s initial and primary sensor.  The Navy is exploring the multi-mission potential of the RMS vehicle (known as the Remote Mine-hunting Vehicle (RMV)) as one of the systems for the LCS ASW mission module package.  IOC is scheduled for 2007.


Similar systems will be employed for the anti-surface or anti-submarine missions. 


While the two sea frame designs will result in two very different ships, they will be able to use the same modules, and operate the same aircraft and unmanned vehicles with the same interfaces.  The mission modules will be sized to fit inside standard “twenty-foot equivalent unit” shipping containers, or TEUs, with standard interfaces that allow for “plug and fight” operation.


Inherent capabilities


The inherent capabilities of LCS are those enabled by the ship’s core systems and characteristics will allow LCS in any configuration to defend itself, support special operations forces, conduct non-combatant evacuations and maritime interdiction operations, humanitarian assistance, maritime law enforcement, support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations and refuel helicopters.


LCS will play an important role in homeland defense.  As an inherent mission for LCS, the seaframe characteristics of high speed, shallow draft and reconfigurablility combine to create an ideal platform for the Global War on Terror and homeland defense missions. 


These missions, and the ship’s inherent capabilities, parallel the requirements for the U.S. Coast Guard and its Deepwater program.  The Navy and Coast are working closely together in developing the sea frames and combat systems for LCS and Deepwater.  Already they have agreed on the United Defense/Bofors 57mm gun for the new Coast Guard cutter and LCS, as well as for the DD(X) destroyer.


LCS will have a flight deck and hangars for both manned and unmanned aircraft.  The ship will be capable of operating an H-60 helicopter as well as vertical takeoff unmanned aerial vehicles (VTUAVs) such as the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout. 


The recently released LCS Concept of Operations (CONOPS) cites three basic options for deployment of LCS.  These ships can deploy as part of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) or Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG); the can deploy as a Surface Action Group (SAG) or independently; or they can be forward deployed but not forward-based as part of a standing naval force.


With the ability to upgrade combat systems as needed, the Navy views LCS as a warship class that will be very effective, relevant, and affordable over its entire service life.


LCS’ speed, payload capacity (approximately 40% of which will be reconfigurable), range and shallow draft become a valuable mobility asset, able to rapidly move personnel, supplies and equipment, providing high priority lift capability for the Joint Warfare Commander.  An example might be an ASW configured LCS being diverted to deliver a SEAL platoon to a drop point.


X-craft will demonstrate high-speed, modularity


While LCS is building, the Navy is learning about high-speed combatants from existing platforms.  The Navy’s Office of Naval Research is building “X-craft,” or the Littoral Surface Craft-Experimental (LSC(X)), launched in February 2005 by Titan Corporation.  Titan’s team also includes Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Washington, and BMT Nigel Gee and Associates of Southampton, United Kingdom, designers.


Billed as an “experimental risk reduction platform,” X-craft is being built to commercial standards with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) acting as the classification authority.  The ship was christened, as Sea Fighter in a Feb. 5, 2005 ceremony, and classified as a “Fast Sea Frame” (FSF-1).  The 262 foot-long aluminum catamaran will displace 950-tons (light ship displacement), will have a crew of 26 (16 Navy and 10 Coast Guard) when the ship arrives at its new homeport of San Diego in August.


X-craft is the world’s first naval vessel designed, engineered, built, and certified under the new ABS High-Speed Naval Craft Rules.  X-craft will employ TEU mission modules as will be found on LCS.


The Navy’s leased high-speed catamarans HSV-1 Joint Venture and HSV-2 Swift are also proving the value of a fast, agile ship with ample volume for combat capability.  The HSV-2 is home ported in Ingleside, Texas, serving in the mine warfare support role.  With a flight deck and hanger for two H-60 helicopters, a stern vehicle ramp that can accommodate an M-1 Abrams tank, Swift has many of the same attribute that will be found in LCS.  Swift has berthing space for more than 40 crewmembers, communications for a wide range of missions, and a load-compensating crane that can launch and recover a variety of small boats and unmanned vehicles up to 26,000 lbs.  Swift has demonstrated the value of its high speed by transiting from Ingleside to South Asia where it supported tsunami relief efforts. 


The Advanced Deployable System (ADS) utilizes an off board distributed sensor field to detect both surface ships and submarines.   Initially, ADS will be deployed from LCS as a component of the LCS littoral anti-submarine warfare capability.  Array performance testing and preliminary demonstrations of data transmission have been completed.  The navy is working on the array deployment subsystem, and has successfully deployed an array from HSV-2 while underway at 30 knots.  The ADS initial operational capability on LCS scheduled for fiscal year 2008. 


Airskids were used in January of 2005 to demonstrate the movement and precision placement of a pair of TEU containers aboard Swift.  The containers, which represented LCS mission modules, were in excess of 13,000 pounds and normally would require two large forklifts working together for about an hour to move from the truck pier side and into place on the ship. Thevalidation of modularity, reconfiguration and high-speed/shallow-draft operations will reduce risk for LCS. 


The ability to integrate with other joint forces and the flexible nature of the LCS’ combat power will provide a valuable asset to the Joint Force Commander.  LCS will be best suited for many missions where larger, multimission ships would be less practical.  The sustained high speeds allow rapid response to contingencies, even those requiring transits of great distances. 


Through distance support, LCS will operate with a relatively small crew that can reach back for technical maintenance assistance


Some critics of the LCS concept have cautioned that the ship is too small and lightly armed.  LCS is not expendable, nor is it very small or vulnerable.  These ships will have a robust self-defense capability, and will send unmanned systems into the most dangerous waters, such as minefields.


The Congressional Budget Office recently suggested canceling the LCS and DD(X) multimission destroyer and proposed some alternatives, namely building a total of 38 frigates instead, as well as an additional seven Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.  “Some of the larger LCS designs could be scaled up and be used as a basis for the new frigate,” the report said.  “Alternatively, the national security cutter of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program is the size of a frigate – about 4,000 to 5,000 tons – and perhaps could be used as a basis for the Navy’s frigate.”


The Navy currently has no plans to build another frigate although the service has begun an extensive modernization of the remaining ships in the Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigates (FFGs).  The program will give the 30 remaining 4,100-ton surface combatants a new self-defense capability and improved hull, mechanical and electrical systems.  The first of the thirty remaining FFGs will begin decommissioning in 2010, with the last one leaving the fleet in 2019 after completing a full service life.


Legacy ships becoming too expensive to operate


The 9,200-ton, 506-foot long Arleigh Burke DDGs are extremely capable multimission ships.  The current Flight IIA variants carry two H-60 helicopters; an improved vertical launching system with 96 missile cells; a newer 5-inch 62-caliber gun designed to shoot the Extended Range Munition (ERM), with a range of up to 63 nautical miles; a mine-avoidance system for the ship's SQQ-89 sonar, and other improvements, all of which will serve the Navy's surface combatant force well into the 21st century.  The 62nd and final DDG will be DDG 112, which will is planned for construction in 2007 and scheduled for commissioning at the end of 2010.  However, these ships have crews of about 350 officers and enlisted crewmembers, and the crew size is a major factor in the life cycle cost of the ship.  That’s why the Navy wants to man DD(X) with a crew of just 150, and LCS with a core crew of as few as 15 plus mission specialists as needed.


The CBO frigate option would favor payload and endurance over speed, as opposed to LCS, which the report says favors speed over endurance and payload.


A December 2004 report on LCS by Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service says there are several issues that Congress needs to focus on regarding LCS.  O’Rourke says that the Navy doesn’t know how many ships it needs, so it is virtually impossible to deduce how many LCS sea frames or mission modules it needs to buy.  He also says there is an inadequate analytical basis for LCS.  While the Navy says LCS could perform homeland defense missions along with Coast Guard cutters, O’Rourke cautions that the Coast Guard is optimized for this mission and that there is no justification to build more LCS for this purpose.  He also is concerned about realistic costs, the optimistically rapid acquisition schedule, and the wisdom of the Navy plan to use second-tier shipyards while major combatant shipbuilders Northrop Grumman Ship Systems and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works have unused capacity.

The U.S. Navy is evolving from a platform-based force to one that is capabilities-based.  Says Rear Adm. Mark Edwards, the director for Surface Warfare on the Navy staff, “What our Navy needs from us is speed, access and persistence, so that our Surface Fleet can protect the Sea Base, and enable combat commanders and our expeditionary forces to conduct operations wherever needed in the world.”




Captain Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is a senior technical director for Anteon Corporation.  He supports the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Directorate.



 (Sea Fighter Photo: )

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